2017 seed harvesting

Now that winter has truly arrived, I took some time to clean and organize our 2017 seed collection. This year, we received help from college students, Maria Center residents, Moontree volunteers, members of the grounds crew, and others.

We collect seeds (and plant them) to increase the plant species diversity in our restoration areas. Biodiversity is a fundamental value of conservation biology, and it’s a cornerstone of ecological functioning.

Yes, seeds can spread themselves, and they have many ways of doing so. It seems that for every species I get in the targeted collection bag, I pick up another one on my coat, pants, or shoelaces.


Seeds of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) bear little white elaiosomes, nutritious bribes for ants who move the seeds to their nests, where a new plant may start growing.

However, it’s important to remember that seeds evolved their dispersal mechanisms in the context of unbroken natural areas. Even though the land was modified by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, it has only been in very recent history that so many acres have been so regularly plowed, drained, sprayed, paved, and mowed. We have selected for a very narrow suite of native species (and alien imports like dandelions) that can withstand this regular onslaught. The less tolerant species have retreated to fencerows, field edges, and islands of small forests.

Just having a single representative plant of a given species “somewhere around here” is not sufficient for ecological function, or to support robust populations of the insects, fungi, bacteria, mammals, birds, etc that rely on them. Yes, it may eventually spread… but “eventually” on the nature’s timescale may be decades or centuries.

We don’t have that kind of time. But we do have brains, hands, and Excel sheets. Even though much of restoration ecology remains something of a black box (especially the microscopic biophysicalchemical world in the soil), we know enough to get started.

I’ll post an update later on the 2017 prairie plantings, but here I’d like to just list the species we were able to harvest in between all of our other tasks. They matured throughout the growing season, most of them ripening in late summer or fall. They grew on dry sand to wet muck. A few are small and inconspicuous, others send new shoots up 10 feet in the air each year.

Butterflies alone are reason to disperse seeds, don’t you think?

This year we gathered around 43 species. Together with 24 additional species off-site from a much-loved volunteer, we have 67+ unique species that we will be sowing this winter and into the spring.

Most of the seeds have a dormancy mechanism that prevents them from germinating immediately in the fall. The cold weather and freeze/thaw forces on the ground unlock this mechanism and allow them to sprout in the spring. Most take a couple years of growth before flowering.

For those wanting to learn more, here are a few resources:





Scientific Name Common Name
Achillea millefolium yarrow
Aletris farinosa colic root
Amorpha fruticosa indigo bush
Andropogon scoparius little bluestem grass
Angelica atropurpurea great angelica
Arisaema dracontium green dragon
Asclepias amplexicaulis sand milkweed
Asclepias syriaca common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa butterfly weed
Aster azureus sky-blue aster
Aster ericoides heath aster
Baptisia australis blue wild indigo
Baptisia leucophaea cream wild indigo
Bouteloua curtipendula side-oats grama
Carex comosa bristly sedge
Carex grayi common bur sedge
Carex hystericina porcupine sedge
Carex pellita broad-leaved woolly sedge
Carex vulpinoidea brown fox sedge
Cassia fasciculata partridge pea
Cassia hebecarpa wild senna
Coreopsis palmata prairie coreopsis
Corylus cornuta beaked hazelnut
Echinacea purpurea broad-leaved purple coneflower
Elymus canadensis canada wild rye
Elymus virginicus virginia wild rye
Eryngium yuccifolium rattlesnake master
Eupatorium maculatum spotted joe pye weed
Euphorbia corollata flowering spurge
Filipendula rubra queen of the prairie
Gaura biennis biennial gaura
Gentiana crinita fringed gentian
Geum laciniatum northern rough avens
Heracleum maximum cow parsnip
Juncus tenuis path rush
Lespedeza capitata round-headed bush clover
Liatris cylindracea cylindrical blazing star
Lobelia cardinalis cardinal flower
Lobelia siphilitica great blue lobelia
Lupinus perennis occidentalis wild lupine
Lycopus virginicus bugle weed
Monarda fistulosa wild bergamot
Parthenium integrifolium wild quinine
Penstemon digitalis foxglove beard tongue
Petalostemum purpureum purple prairie clover
Physostegia virginiana obedient plant
Polygonum sagittatum arrow-leaved tear-thumb
Potentilla arguta prairie cinquefoil
Ratibida pinnata yellow coneflower
Rosa carolina pasture rose
Rudbeckia triloba brown-eyed susan
Sabatia angularis rose gentian
Sanguinaria canadensis bloodroot
Scirpus cyperinus wool grass
Silene regia royal catchfly
Silene stellata starry campion
Silphium laciniatum compass plant
Silphium perfoliatum cup plant
Sisyrinchium angustifolium stout blue-eyed grass
Solidago graminifolia nuttallii hairy grass-leaved goldenrod
Solidago rigida stiff goldenrod
Sorghastrum nutans indian grass
Tephrosia virginiana goats rue
Thalictrum dasycarpum purple meadow rue
Tradescantia ohiensis common spiderwort
Verbena stricta hoary vervain
Veronicastrum virginicum culvers root

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